The Rope Trick


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Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

The toddler at home is now a year old. His mobility hitherto had been somewhat restricted due to his crawl, but now that he has learned to walk, albeit unsteadily, there is no stopping him. And with the additional mobility appears to have arrived mischievousness too. You are no more able to find things at their allotted places, breakages and spillages are on the increase due to the kid’s constant activity and he keeps trying to get out into the wide world outside, rebelling against the confines of the home. If the main door is kept open for a second, he slips through with ease and is recaptured only after a long and anxious search. He doesn’t allow his mother to cook in peace, picking up and throwing down various ingredients like salt, sugar etc. and insisting on sticking his finger into the fire. What do you do with such an endearing but infuriating SriDamodharbrat? I have seen several mothers resort to tying up the toddler, with a length of rope that permits him a radius of movement but keeps him out of mischief’s way. Bawl out he might, but he is set free only after the mother has finished her chores and is free to battle with his effervescence once more.

Where do you think the toddler learnt mischief? And where do you think the mother learnt the aforesaid way of keeping him out of monkey business?

There might be any number of tales of the Lord, for He has taken innumerable avatArAs, many times over. Each of His exploits is unique and endearing, conferring upon the listener/reader devotion and merit. However, the Krishnavatara remains the most popular, the one people generally identify with and are able to shower their love and affection upon. For, it is extremely difficult to love or be one with a fish, a boar, a lion or the Perfect Monarch who is fit only to be put on a pedestal and worshipped. The Krishnavatara, on the other hand, is all about a real, flesh and blood person who also appears to be so, who apparently has all the weaknessees and temptations that we ourselves had in childhood and whose exploits still enthrall us, millennia after they were enacted. Krishna is the neighbourhood boy with whom you can swap stories, have fun with, play truant from classes with, love and remonstrate with, in whose daredevil company you can steal neighbours’ jealously-gurarded fruits with impunity and escape retribution by a hair’s breadth. He is the one who can introduce you in full measure to the thrills of childhood, the minor pleasures forbidden by straightlaced parents. It is He who can tell you with precision which neighbour’s tree is ripe with fruit, who has gone out of station, leaving his grounds open for boisterous play and so on.

Among all the endearing exploits of the Krishna sisu, the one most eulogised and chronicled must indeed be the episode of His being tied up to the grindstone. Azhwars and Acharyas wax eloquent while recounting this tale, moved beyond measure by the thought of the Parabrahmam permitting itself to be bound hand and foot by a humble cowherdess. “etthiram uralinOdu iNaindu irundu Engiya eLivE!” marvels Sri Nammazhwar, painting a vivid picture of the tearful ParamAtmA tethered to the grindstone like cattle.

And why was the Lord tied to the stone? As was His wont, Emperuman had stolen all the milk, butter and curds that could possibly be stolen in a day, from all the households of Nandagokulam and consumed them all in the company of fellow urchins. Yasoda, who usually defended Her son vociferously against the constant litany of complaints that almost all the Gopis of Gokulam had against Her darling son, found herself silenced for once by the combined assault of the aggrieved YAdava damsels. Convinced at last of the truth in their complaints, Yasoda, in her desperation, decided to try out a novel punishment which she hoped would make Krishna cease and desist from His nefarious endeavours. She decided to restrict His movement, considering this to be perhaps the greatest penalty she could inflict on the brat, who loved to be on the move always, intent upon all types of mischief.

However, one aspect of the matter is indeed puzzling. Krishna was the darling of all the Gopis and had the run of their kitchens. He could have had all the milk and butter He desired, just for the asking. None in Gokulam could deny the boy his heart’s desire, for everyone was well and truly mesmerised by His looks, conduct and exploits—“MAlE seyyum MaNALaNai” says Sri Kodai Nacchiar, attesting to the infatuation the Gopis had for the Lord. Thus, there was absolutely no need for Sri Krishna to steal anything from anyone. Whoever would take by stealth something that is available for the asking!

Yet, if Sri Krishna did steal dairy products, it was only out of His desire to display the trump card with which He ensnares everyone, viz., His Soulabhyam and Souseelyam. It was out of a desire to subject Himself to the mock chastisement meted out by unlettered cowherdesses, whose hearts were full of love, affection and devotion for Him. It was indeed out of a desire to be tied-up hand and foot and even be beaten by these simple but loving souls—“Ayar kozhundAi avarAl pudayuNNum en MAya pirAn” enthuses Sri Nammazhwar, marvelling at the endless accessibility and Souseelyam of the mighty Parabrahmam, normally beyond the grasp of the most powerful of men (“agrAhya:” says Sri Vishnu Sahasranamam), which consented to be immobilised by a mere rope wielded by a simple cowherdess. Finding such traits impossible of display in Paramapadam (where none would even dream of tying up the Lord, leave alone of beating Him), Emperuman decided to make the most of His sojourn on earth by indulging in all sort of horseplay, moving as one with cows and their masters. Tired of the constant paeons of praise showered upon Him by the nitya sooris of Sri Vaikuntam, the Lord made up His mind to listen to choice words of abuse, for a change—“VeNnai unNdAn ivan endru Esa nindra Emperuman”. And tired of meting out punishment to all according to their misdeeds, He decided to undergo some of it Himself, for a change. It was all this that was behind the Lord’s constant theiving expeditions—“Muhu: pravrittam navaneeta chouryE” says Swami Desikan in YadavAbhyudayam.

It was not as if the brat could be tied up at will. Many were the occasions when the infuriated Yasoda failed miserably to catch Him, even after chasing Him across half of Gokulam, sweat pouring from her brow and breasts heaving with the exertion of running after the spirited brat. “ThAi eduttha siru kOlukku uLaindu Odi” says Azhwar, recounting with glee the ease with which kutti Krishnan gave the slip to His mother, pursuing Him with a small stick, in the fond hope of spanking Him.

At His playful best, Sri Krishna would allow Himself at times to be caught by Yasoda and dragged back home, for being tied up to the grindstone. And when the victorious Yasoda tried to truss Him up, He would make it impossible for her to do so by cutting all the ropes at home into small pieces, in advance. As a result, Yasoda would search in vain for something to bind Him with and would have to release Him, admitting failure. At other times, not to be defeated by His machinations, Yasoda would tie together various pieces of rope and manufacture one long enough to go round Krishna’s slender waist. However, Krishna would make Himself suddenly and incredibly fat, making the rope length extremely inadequate to tie Him with.

Yasoda thus found it impossible to bind the brat, whatever strategy she adopted. And in desperation, as is the wont of simple women, she sat down to have a good cry. When Krishna saw tears streaming out of his mother’s eyes, He couldn’t bear the sight for even a second and contracted His waist, so that even the smallest of ropes could pass several times around His midriff. It was thus that Yasoda was able tie Him up. Though several Azhwars recount this episode with relish, it was left to Sri Madhurakavi to reveal the secret that it was not Yasoda who tied the Lord up, but the Emperuman who permitted Himself to be bound by the smallest of ropes which would normally be inadequate to tie even a little hand—“kaNNi nuN siru thAmbinAl kattuNNa paNNiya peru MAyan”. The Lord, whom the Upanishad credits with a mammoth figure, larger than the largest imaginable (“mahatO maheeyAn”) made Himself smaller than the smallest, permitting His perspiring mother to tie Him up with ease, affording her victory which had eluded her for long.

Here is the beautiful sloka from YAdavAbhyudayam, with a bewitching pen- portrait of this endearing episode—

“Aneetam agrE nija bandanArttham dAmAkhilam samhitamapi apoorNam
vilOkya nirviNna dhiyO jananyA: sankOcha shaktyA sa babhoova badhya:”

The last two words, “babhoova badhya:” are extremely significant– Rather than giving Yasoda the credit for tying Him up, Swami Desikan highlights His soulabhyam, with the indication that He permitted Himself to be tied-up. It was Emperuman’s idea in the first place to get tied up and thereby display His susceptibility to the Bonds of Love, says Sri Madhurakavi—“KattuNNa PaNNiya Peru MAyan”.

It is from this episode that Emperuman derived the tirunAmam “DAmOdara:” and it is said that the Lord wears with relish the marks of the rope which passed around His midriff, as indelible evidence of His Bhakta parAdheenatvam. The irrepressible Parabrahmam could be tied and trussed up like a hen, because the bonds were made not out of mere cord, but of the stronger-than-steel strings of love and devotion. Sri Nammazhwar has a special fascination for DAmOdaran and calls Him the Primordial Cause—“DAmOdaranai tani mudalvanai”. Azhwar marvels at the size of the rope that must have been required to tie up the Lord’s belly, swollen with accomodating all the worlds—“DAmOdaranai tani mudalvanai gyAlam uNdavanai”. And yet because the rope was fashioned out of pure maternal love, despite being very small (“nuN thAmbu”), it acquired the required degree of elasticity to go round His monstrous midriff.

Scriptures tell us that blissful contemplation of this episode, of the Lord willingly accepting bondage, can unfailingly lead to our own release from the eternal bondage of Karma. This is akin to Swami Desikan’s assertion that one who delights in the Lord’s exploit in sucking PoothanA’s breast, would never have occasion to feed on a mother’s breast again, having been released from the interminable cycle of births and deaths.

Article by Sri Sadagopan Iyengar Swami, Coimbatore

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